By Pete Zamplas
Hendersonville – The local public can tell City of Hendersonville officials about priority police-related issues and policies and most pivotal qualities to look for in the next police chief, in an online survey conducted through Sept. 11.
The City announced the survey last Friday, primarily to assist its search for a longterm successor to Herbert Blake. Blake has moved on to become Buncombe County’s chief deputy sheriff.
Former Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed is Hendersonville’s interim police chief, serving since Aug. 24 and until a more permanent selection is made.
The search is projected to take three to six months and is handled in part with Developmental Associates. City Manager John Connet will outline the search process and timetable, in the City Council meeting Thursday, Sept. 3.
No restriction is listed on who can take the survey. It can help for the respondent to note if she or he lives in the city, or in Henderson County or elsewhere but frequently travels in the city, owns a business in town, and if the person often dines or shops in the downtown business district.
The first of five survey questions is: “What do you see as the major challenges facing the City of Hendersonville Police Department, in its relationship to the community?”
The next question is about “major challenges” with the police department.
Many citizens seek a balance between tight and fair security for all with sensitivity to details of an incident — especially when dealing with minority suspects. That has extra ramifications amidst recent, highly-publicized shootings of suspects in a few cities across the country — after which there have been further public protests, with many confrontational and some quite violent.
The few protests in Hendersonville were — as required — staged in the police lot. Video shown online indicated they were very peaceful, with no violent confrontations between protestors and police or others.
This is inevitably relief to area residents who frequent downtown. Hendersonville has a thriving, one-mile long downtown commercial district along Main Street. Security downtown for decades has been mentioned as a city priority, and especially during crowded public festivals.
Startling videos on television showed a roving mob of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protestors intimidating outdoor diners Aug. 24, in upscale areas of Washington, DC such as Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan. Hundreds of protestors crowded up to outdoor diners. Protestors chanted “White silence is violence!” and “Put your fist up!” to pressure diners into solidarity with BLM.
Some lashed out at diners who refused the mob’s demands and tried to keep eating, calling them white supremacists.
In an oft-aired video, protestors cornered a white woman identified by media as Lauren Victor for minutes in Adams Morgan (a Washington, DC neighborhood). Victor sat with her back to the restaurant, a table to her left and protestors in front and all around her. Hundreds of mainly white protestors menacingly kept yelling and raising fists at Victor.
They chanted “No justice; no peace.” Among those in Victor’s face, a shaming protestor yelled asking if Victor was a Christian. Victor leaned back in her chair, pressing the back of her head against the restaurant facade.
The video shows how Lauren Victor was trapped. She later told reporters she felt attacked and coerced. No D.C. police response showed up during that video segment.
Locals may wish to state the obvious in the police survey — they do not want such an episode in Hendersonville outdoor dining, in the off chance a mob protest roamed Main or Seventh Avenue.
The department assigns a patrol officer for downtown, as a first alert, a deterrent to crime, and to boost police-public relations.
Herbert Blake explained to The Tribune his de-escalation policy, for handling BLM or other protests. “We are not going to agitate the situation, by getting heavy-handed and overly controlling. That can lead to people pushing back, and responding” violently. “A verbal altercation can lead to physical altercation.”
Chief Duties, Qualities
The survey shifts to the next chief’s “most important competencies (e.g. knowledge, skills, and abilities)…” then his/her “most important responsibilities.” There is space for “other comments.”
Blake said, “We’re expected to behave in a professional manner.” HPD’s stated mission is to “provide professional law enforcement services to our constituents, to preserve and improve the quality of life for those who live in, work in, or visit our city.”
The prime objective is to keep Hendersonville a “safe destination” and HPD “fair, respectful, transparent, and well-trained,” Blake stated. He sought “employees who are accessible, accountable, and responsive” to the public and also “mature, benevolent, empathetic problem solvers.”
HPD posts PSA videos. One gives drivers tips for avoiding confrontation when pulled over in a traffic stop. Keys for avoiding confrontation are to remain patient and calm, keep hands on the steering wheel to clearly not be reaching for a weapon, and to follow the officer’s instructions.
Bill Hollingsed, appointed as interim chief, is executive director of the NC Association of Chiefs of Police. He was Waynesville Police chief for over 20 years, retiring last year. Connet points to the “wealth of knowledge and experience.”
Chief Holllingsed calls the transition period an “opportunity to examine and analyze ways to increase communication and cooperation between the agency and the community that we serve.” He is known for community policing innovations, and for strengthening public-police relations.
Two HPD promotions by then-Chief Blake in August are Trae Laws to patrol lieutenant and Matthew Capps to patrol sergeant.